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My Experience at the QRCA Conference as a First Timer and Young Professionals Grant Winner

Posted By Sonya Shen, Thursday, February 21, 2019
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2019

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Sonya Shen is a 2019 QRCA Young Professionals Grant recipient. First launched in 2014, the Young Professionals Grant helps advance promising young qualitative researchers’ careers by providing access to networking and educational sessions via a free pass to the QRCA’s Annual Conference plus a one-year QRCA membership. Visit qrca.org/YPG to learn more.

Conference Swag

Selected Conference Swag

I won a QRCA Young Professionals Grant to the 2019 QRCA Annual Conference, “Charting Your Best Course.” I just returned from spending three packed days in Savannah, Georgia learning from and connecting with other qualitative researchers.

Young Professionals Grant (YPG) Winners Received VIP Service
In October 2018, I learned that I had been awarded a YPG. I had been wanting to focus my career more on qualitative research, and winning the grant was the impetus that I needed to start making my ideas a reality. I immediately felt taken care of: YPG winners received communications leading up to the conference about events geared towards First Time Attendees and Young Professionals. I was also paired up with my own conference ambassador, Susan Sweet of Sweet Insight Group, who helped me prepare for and navigate the conference by sharing tips and introducing me to other attendees. I felt welcomed and prepared even before setting foot in Savannah.

The Conference Schedule Was Packed with Events and Sessions
I recommend planning out which sessions to attend before heading to the conference. The conference app was also helpful in the moment in figuring out where to go next (always a challenge at conferences!). A nice bonus I appreciated is that all sessions are available for viewing after the conference so attendees have less angst about missing a presentation. My FOMO turned to JOMO when I realized I could take a guilt-free break outside to recharge. I treated myself to a walk to Chippewa Square, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump (spoiler alert: there is no bench in the square, it was just there for the movie).

Qually Award Finalist Presentations
The three finalists for the Qually Award presented their proposals and took questions in front of a live and discerning audience. It was clear that a lot of preparation went into the proposals. I was impressed by the amount of camaraderie and openness to sharing that I saw.

Keynote
Dr. Carmen Simon of Memzy delivered a keynote presentation on “The Neuroscience of Memorable Messages”. We learned about memory and the fact that people only remember 90% of what was shared with them after two days. Dr. Simon discussed how to make messages more memorable and how to get people to act on a message (such as if you offer a slight twist, it will bring the brain back to the present).

Sessions
Laurie Tema-Lyn’s session on the topic of “Using Theater Games in Research” demonstrated how to use different techniques to meet a variety of research objectives. I learned how to set the stage so that researchers, respondents, and clients are all comfortable using more out-of-the-box methods such as World Salad, Improv/Role-play, and Theater of Exaggeration. The session allowed me to think creatively, practice my active listening skills, and give myself permission to try new things.

Lisa Lipkin presented on the topic of “Go from Facts to Truth with Neuroscience and Storytelling,” where she encouraged us to “make magic out of the mundane” when we are eliciting stories from respondents. Her tips included seeing the story in everything because what we store in our memories is most meaningful, and everything and everyone has a story. Lisa also encouraged us to dig deeper and be an “emotion detective,” as fact is not truth. Start with the emotion, then hang the facts on it.

Zebra Strategies’ Denene Rodney and Sharon Arthur’s session on “Ensuring Real Diversity in Qualitative Research” examined the role of the researcher as clients’ stewards to educate, guide, and safeguard them, and to better customize marketing messaging that consider cultural nuance. It shared actionable tips of how to ensure personal and collective accountability, accounting for bias, and ethical considerations. I walked away with strategies on how to exemplify this topic by being honest about what I do and don’t know, figuring out how to get answers if I don’t know something, expanding my network, developing empathy and curiosity, and to not run and to not hide.

“Opening Closed Doors with Role-Play” by Elizabeth George of Market Strategies was a deep dive into how to use role-play in research. While ethnography is the gold standard, barriers abound, such as in doctor/patient interactions. Liz walked us through the logistics of a particular type of role-play in which doctors are the respondents, actors are hired to play the patients who interact with the doctors, and the researchers are the facilitators. There was a great deal of information, and I felt like I was equipped to implement this strategy if I wanted to.

Networking Was Plentiful
I highly recommend attending a conference where most attendees are great at asking questions and where organizers are skilled at facilitating experiences. This conference checked both boxes. There were plenty of opportunities to meet other attendees and connect over shared interests. Highlights Include:

  • The First Timers Event: This was set up like a speed dating event where First Timers meet non-First Timer attendees. All the fun with none of the awkward rejection!
  • The Young Professionals Dine-Around Dinner: I connected with other Young Professionals at a restaurant in downtown Savannah. Topics of discussion were varied – from career to food, to kangaroos (friend or foe?).
  • Thursday Night Event at Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub: A giant get-together for everyone at the conference which included First Timers Bingo (Tip: maximize your time in the food line by asking passers-by if they can help you cross off a bingo square).
  • The Young Professional Exchange: Career and Life Hacks to Supercharge Your Growth (Roundtable): Young Professionals convened to discuss solutions to problems they commonly face. One of the many takeaways I left with was to lean into what sets me apart as a researcher.
  • Optional Chapter Meetings: I got the opportunity to meet other qualitative researchers in my area over breakfast.

As a First Timer, I felt completely at ease while networking. The conference size was manageable, and it felt heartening to see that so many other attendees knew each other and were catching up.

There are Many Opportunities to Stay Involved After the Conference
As a winner of the YPG, I was also awarded a one-year QRCA membership. I am already signed up to attend the next SF QRCA Chapter Meeting and plan on volunteering in some capacity. There are many opportunities to stay plugged in through the QRCA forum, through a SIG (Special Interest Group), or with a committee.

Bonus “Wow” Moment: Doing chair yoga with a view overlooking the Savannah River.

The 2019 QRCA Conference was a wonderful learning and networking experience. Thank You to the QRCA and Young Professionals organization for organizing the conference and awarding me a YPG. Hope to see you next year in Austin!

Sonya ShenSonya Shen, Independent Research Consultant

Sonya is a Researcher, Storyteller, and Yoga Teacher located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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Tags:  QRCA  QRCA Annual Conference  QRCA Young Professional Grant  Qualitative Research 

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